MIDTOWN — Two real-life Lex Luthors took advantage of the elderly widow of the DC Comics publisher who brought Superman to news stands by convincing her to leave them large sums of cash from her $50 million estate, court papers charge.
The son of the late widow, Shirley Liebowitz, accused her lawyer Dennis Drebsky and her business manager Ronald Krause of inserting themselves into his mom's will and isolating her from him and other family members.
Liebowitz's late husband, Jack Liebowitz, had a major hand in bringing two of the comic book world's biggest superheroes to life.
"The story that is unfolding is clearly one of elder abuse, fraud and undue influences," the son's lawyer, Jason Blasberg, wrote recently in a court filing in Manhattan Surrogate's Court. "It appears that Drebsky and Krause targeted [Liebowitz] for their own advantage so that they could reap the benefits of her wealth upon death."
Liebowitz died at 96 on April 24, 2013, but during the last 12 years of her life, Krause and Drebsky drafted 28 wills for her. In later versions, her son's bequest drastically dropped while the lawyer and business manager's inheritances ballooned, according to Blasberg's filing.
In a 2001 version of her will, Liebowitz's son, Robert Schwartz, was supposed to receive a $4 million bequest from her estate, which includes $41 million in stock and two apartments in Hampshire House, a tony cooperative on Central Park South. But in the last version, Liebowitz left Schwartz, 76, a mere $150,000 annuity for the rest of his life, court records show.
The final version of the will divvies up $4 million to her employees, leaving $1 million to Drebsky, $1 million to Krause and $1.5 million to Liebowitz's gardener, according to Blasberg's filing.
Drebsky was also named the executor and trustee of the estate with a guaranteed $1 million commission in administration fees, the will says. He also has the exclusive authority to give away $30 million to charities of his choice — power that "provides Drebsky with a substantial psychic benefit if not a direct economic one," according to Blasberg's filing.
Schwartz claims that his mother had serious health issues, suffered from poor vision and hearing and was unable to make her own decisions about the will. Schwartz's court filings want to compel Drebsky and Krause to provide information to determine how much influence they had on Liebowitz's financial and social affairs.
In 1937, Jack Liebowitz and his partner, Harry Donenfeld, started Detective Comics, in which Batman made his first appearance two years later. Their company would eventually be called DC comics with Liebowitz as publisher.
According to the New York Times, Liebowitz also started Action Comics and bought the story of Superman from cartoonists Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Liebowitz reportedly chose the image of a Superman holding a car above his head that graced the cover of Action Comics' first issue in June 1938.
He died at the age of 100 in 2000.
Gary Freidman, a lawyer for Drebsky, declined to comment.
However, in court filings responding Schwartz's accusations, Freidman said Drebsky and Krause were not villains and denied that they conspired to influence Liebowitz's decisions about her will.
Krause did not respond to requests for comment.
In an affidavit filed on Nov. 17, Krause said that he started working for Liebowitz shortly after the death of her husband.
"At the inception of our relationship, [Liebowitz] unequivocally stated that she had no need for and did not seek my advice or counsel," he wrote in his affidavit. "She frequently stated that she was the only person upon whom she could ultimately rely to protect her interests."
Krause described Liebowitz as an imperious employer who only allowed him to handle "mundane matters" like the "selection of telephones, humidifiers, air fresheners and other household items."
"She occasionally asked me about the alleged deficiencies of her household staff with whom she had a tumultuous relationship," he added.
Krause said he visited her Thursday nights to deliver her bills, but rarely saw her otherwise except to invite her to dinner on Mother's Day and to ceremonies on Jewish holy days. He also said he never stopped her from contacting her family.
Krause added that he never interfered with Liebowitz's will or finances, noting that her decision's about inheritances changed with her mood swings.
Liebowitz "used her money in general, and her will in particular, as both a punishment and a reward," Krause wrote. "If the wind blew the wrong direction on a given day, she would reduce your bequest. Conversely, if you jumped through hoops to satisfy her demands, she would reward you."
Blasberg said he could not immediately respond to requests for comment because he was traveling until Jan. 13.